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Rebuilding Marysville

Sophie McNamara
Med J Aust
Published online: 16 April 2012

Dr Lachlan Fraser has thrown himself into the recovery effort after bushfires all but destroyed Marysville, Victoria, in 2009.

The small town of Marysville, north-west of Melbourne, was badly damaged by the 2009 bushfires, with 90%–95% of buildings destroyed and many people losing their lives.

Dr Lachlan Fraser, Marysville’s general practitioner, lost both his home and clinic in the fires, and lacerated tendons in his thumb while trying to save his home.

In the aftermath, he attended funerals for 24 people from the area, and provided physical and mental health treatment for countless others.

While rebuilding his life, which required him to do everything from finding accommodation to organising his medical registration papers, he also became heavily involved in the recovery efforts.

Already a keen runner, he had the idea of establishing a marathon in Marysville to “show that we weren’t defeated” by the fires.

“I thought it would be a good way to raise community spirit and would also give people from outside the town the chance to show their support”, he said.

The first Marysville Marathon was held in late 2009, with about 3000 runners and walkers participating.

The marathon was also held in 2010 and 2011, attracting more than 1000 participants each year. Dr Fraser believes it will remain an annual fixture, despite the considerable organisational work involved, and the ongoing need for sponsorship.

“The people who come think it is fantastic and want to come back each year. It’s a good day out … and it helps the local economy because they stay in local accommodation and support local businesses.

“One of the unique things is that they can see the town and the environment regenerate”, he says.

As well as assisting the town, the marathon also had a big impact on Dr Fraser’s personal life, as he met his future wife through the organising committee the first year. The couple now have a baby daughter.

In addition to regular running, Dr Fraser has also relished participating in a steel pan band, Pans On Fire, which was formed by a local woman after the fires. The members of the band all come from bushfire-affected regions.

“That’s been a big part of the recovery for all of us”, says Dr Fraser, who had limited musical experience before joining the band.

The band rehearses weekly, playing steel pans made from 44-gallon drums cut to different sizes. They’ve performed around Victoria on average monthly, and are hoping to organise a steel pan band festival in Marysville next year.

Three years on, the rebuilding efforts in Marysville are far from over. Dr Fraser estimates that only about 150 out of the 450 houses destroyed have been rebuilt, although several public buildings, such as the information centre, the primary school and the post office, have been completed. The community centre which includes Dr Fraser’s rooms opened late last year.

In the year after the fires, a few locums helped Dr Fraser manage the clinic, but he has now returned to his regular part-time case load. He enjoys part-time work so he has time for running, gardening, music and raising his baby girl.

“You don’t necessarily have to be overworked as a country GP — to some extent you can choose where you practice and the way you practice”, he says.

He still occasionally sees patients presenting for the first time for counselling related to the fires. He says it is a vulnerable time for some, because the initial energy and enthusiasm for the recovery efforts has died down.

“Initially, there were a lot of meetings and planning activities so there was a big sense of community afterwards. Now people have sort of gone back to their own circles”, he says.

He says although the recovery experience has been extremely challenging, he has learnt a lot.

“There have been some difficult times, but my running — and the drumming added in — has helped me get through it. If anything, I’ve probably grown from it.”

More about the Marysville Marathon: http://www.marysvillemarathon.com.au

  • Sophie McNamara


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